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Speech to the Port and Maritme Security Conference, Melbourne.

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Melbourne, Victoria  

Tuesday, 15 September 2009


First, may I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land we meet on - and pay my respects to their elders, both past and present.

• Susan Fryda‐Blackwell, Executive Officer, Ports Australia;   • Captain Graham Mapplebeck, International Maritime Organisation;   • Distinguished guests;   • Ladies and gentlemen.  

It is a great pleasure to contribute to this important conference.

By bringing together a wide range of experts and stakeholders, I hope this conference will help both the Government and the private sector respond to the significant maritime security challenges facing us.

I would like to outline some key features of the Rudd Government’s approach to offshore maritime security as well as announce some key reforms that we are proposing to improve the legislative framework for Commonwealth offshore law enforcement.

Importance of Maritime Security 

Before doing so, however, I think it is worth recalling why maritime security is of such vital importance.

Australia has always been reliant on the sea as a source of communication and trade with the rest of the world. Maritime transport remains the primary means by which Australia conducts its international trade in goods.

In 2007-08, Australia exported over 705 million tonnes of sea freight and imported over 83 million tonnes. Our total international trade by sea was in excess of $300 billion.

Australia’s maritime domain is also vital source of natural resources - in particular, natural gas, oil and of course, seafood. Almost all of Australia’s known oil and gas deposits are found in our maritime domain.

Indeed, the Bonaparte, Browse and Carnavon Basins off the coast of Western Australia, and the Gippsland Basin off the coast of Victoria account for nearly 95 per cent of our known oil reserves and over 96 per cent of our known natural gas reserves.

The recent announcement of the Gorgon natural gas project illustrates just how significant maritime based resources are to Australia’s continuing prosperity.

Of course the oceans are more than just a means of trade and a source of natural resources.

Australia’s maritime domain includes some of the most unique ecological systems on earth. This includes of course, the Great Barrier Reef, as well as other features such as the pristine waters surrounding Heard Island and the McDonald Islands. Some 80 per cent of the species found in Australia’s southern temperate waters cannot be found anywhere else on earth.

As a surfer and beach lover myself, I can also attest to the importance of Australia’s beautiful beaches and breaks.

In short, Australia’s coastlines, islands and waters are vital to both Australia’s economy and our way of life.

Responsibility for Australian Waters 

Traditionally, it was the States that had the primary responsibility for Australia’s maritime domain. This only began to change in 1967 when the Commonwealth commenced coastal civil surveillance in our newly declared 12 nautical mile fishing zone.

Over time, the Commonwealth’s interest in maritime security grew and its enforcement approach evolved in response to a range of emerging - often global - trends.

These included:

• the expansion of international trade;   • the increasing use of the sea to smuggle goods and people;   • increasing levels of pollution at sea;   • the emergence of global terrorism; and   • the development of offshore petroleum and natural gas reserves.  

The last four decades have been characterised by a growing understanding of the value of the sea’s biodiversity and the marine environment generally.

The emerging interest of the Commonwealth in Australia’s offshore domain has not been without its controversies.

In 1973, the Commonwealth enacted the Seas and Submerged Lands Act which, amongst other things, provided that sovereignty over the Territorial Sea was vested in and exercisable by the Commonwealth.

The States did not welcome this innovation and challenged the legislation in the High Court, which famously upheld the Commonwealth position in the Seas and Submerged Lands Case.

Subsequently, the Commonwealth, the States and the Northern Territory agreed to the Offshore Constitutional Settlement - a key feature of which was the vesting in the States and the Northern Territory of title to the coastal waters adjacent to their jurisdictions.

This jurisdictional division remains with us today and marks a critical turning point in the maritime roles and responsibilities of the Commonwealth and the States.

Around the same time as these issues were being resolved, the international law of the sea was going through an unprecedented period of development - culminating in the finalisation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1982.

Australia was an original party to the Convention which was ratified by the Keating Labor Government in October 1994.

The significance of the Law of the Sea Convention should not be underestimated. Indeed, the Secretary-General of the United Nations at the time the Convention was signed described it as ‘possibly the most significant legal instrument’ of the last century.

The Convention codified and extended existing rights at international law - such as confirming a maximum width for the territorial sea of 12 nautical miles.

It also created significant new rights such as the ability of coastal states to establish a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

Operational Arrangements 

As one would expect, Australia’s operational response to maritime security has evolved and developed to meet our expanding interests and jurisdiction.

Initially fragmented and focussed on particular threats, there has been a growing recognition of the need for a flexible, all-hazards approach to maritime security that is reflected in the current operational framework.

This framework dates to the establishment of the Joint Offshore Protection Command - now known as Border Protection Command.

At the centre of this framework are two operational agencies - the Australian Defence Force and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. These agencies operate under a common command model - through Border Protection Command - and where appropriate, are assisted by specialist agencies such as the Australian Fisheries Management Authority.

This approach is an excellent example of agencies pooling resources and working together to respond to the wide range of maritime threats. It also ensures we can respond flexibly to new threats as they emerge.

Homeland and Border Security Review 

Since coming to office, the Rudd Government has taken significant steps to bolster the effectiveness and ensure the long-term sustainability of this operational framework.

Critically, one of the first things that the Government did was establish the Homeland and Border Security Review.

The establishment of the review recognised that Australia’s approach to national security had developed rapidly in response to a range of events and threats - and it was time to take a strategic look at how things were working and how they could be improved.

The Prime Minister announced the Government’s response to the review in his National Security Statement to Parliament in December last year.

In his statement, the Prime Minister emphasised a number of key themes, including:

• the need to take an inclusive approach to the idea of national security;   • the importance of engaging regionally and globally to address national security threats; and   • the need to simplify existing arrangements and improve coordination across agencies.  

Significantly, the Prime Minister announced changes to the Australian Customs Service to augment and re-task it with a particular focus on border threats.

Reflecting this new role, the service was renamed the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. And in this year’s Budget, the Government committed an additional $650 million for people smuggling and border protection. This included almost $400 million for maritime and aerial surveillance of Australian waters.

Legal Arrangements 

It is widely acknowledged that Australia’s operational response to maritime security threats is working well.

While there is always room for improvement, I think it is fair to say that our operational arrangements have now reached a high level of maturity. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the legal framework underpinning those arrangements.

At present there are at least 35 separate Commonwealth Acts that contain maritime enforcement powers. These Acts differ from one another in terms of the types of powers they contain, the form of those powers, and the procedures associated with them.

In short, different Acts have different requirements for the exercise of particular powers.

This has the potential to create:

• operational problems for agencies on the water;   • legal uncertainty if enforcement action is challenged before the courts; and   • policy difficulties in ensuring that enforcement is kept up‐to‐date and consistent.  

Maritime Powers Bill 

That is why I am today announcing new legislation to consolidate the Commonwealth’s maritime enforcement powers into a single Act.

This will bring our legal and operational arrangements into alignment.

The new legislation - to be known as the Maritime Powers Bill - will provide a clear, simple and best-practice set of powers for enforcement at sea.

It will contain the full suite of maritime enforcement powers, including interdiction, boarding, search, arrest and seizure. Operational agencies will not lose any powers that they currently have available to them. Duplicate provisions in other Acts will be repealed.

Significantly, the Bill will provide a mechanism to implement and enforce international agreements that have a maritime enforcement aspect. For example, the Bill will provide a comprehensive regime for Australia to implement its high seas boarding and inspection rights and obligations under regional fisheries agreements.

The Bill will also provide for the implementation and enforcement of decisions of international bodies such as the United Nations Security Council.

The legislation will be developed with a view to being introduced in the first half of 2010.

This initiative represents a major innovation in the coordination of Australia’s maritime enforcement activities and will support the significant advances that have been made in operational capability and coordination.


In closing, I would like to put this proposal in a broader context.

The proposed Maritime Powers Bill reflects a number of key themes that are crucial in the current environment.

First, it will apply to all maritime threats - ensuring a common enforcement approach wherever Australia’s interests are threatened.

Second, it will be specifically designed to ‘lock in’ to international arrangements ensuring Australia can act quickly to enforce its rights or discharge its obligations.

And third, it will significantly simplify existing arrangements and promote coordination between relevant enforcement agencies.

These reforms will place Australia at the international forefront in its approach to maritime enforcement.

They will also strengthen our ability to effectively respond to existing and emerging maritime threats.

Thank you.